Leading petrol distributors face multi-million crown fine over cartel


Some of the leading petrol distributors on the Czech market face a multi million crown fine over allegations they formed a cartel. The Czech Anti-Monopoly Office said on Wednesday that it had sufficient evidence to prove that such a deal was concluded and enforced in the course of 2001 and that the companies involved would now pay a fine of several hundred million crowns. The Anti-Monopoly Office did not provide any names or specify the exact amount of money involved, but according to the economic daily Hospodarske Noviny this concerns Benzina, OMV, Shell, Agip and Conoco , who should divide a 300 million crown fine between them. Anticipating such a move Shell, which has faced similar charges in Sweden and Italy, told newsmen it would be defending its rights in court.

Daniela Lazarova asked economic expert Evzen Kocenda how hard it is to prove the existence of a cartel:

"I can imagine that it must be extremely difficult because extremely large amounts of money are involved in such secret negotiations. I imagine that precautions are taken against these activities and that these things are closely monitored. Still, to uncover them and to gather sufficient proof must be very difficult."

I have heard consumers comment on this development and many people say that, at the end of the day, consumers themselves will pay the fine in the form of another price increase. Can such a fine be counterproductive in the long run?

"Long term it will make no difference. In the short term there are two possibilities. Consumers may be right in that the companies might "pass on the fine" diluted in the price of gasoline onto consumers themselves. On the other hand, if the Anti-Monopoly Office has strong evidence against these companies, if the fine is imposed on them and its collection is enforced, then it will be a strong signal that something similar might happen again. Passing the fine onto consumers is something that is unacceptable as well, so they would be risking another fine in the future."

How would you assess the work of the anti-monopoly office over the past decade?

"Over the past decade the anti-monopoly office has been gathering strength. This is also the case of other supervisory or controlling bodies. I think that it is doing a good job and the fine -which will allegedly amount to hundreds of millions of crowns - is in my view proportional to the profits which these companies made as a result of the cartel agreement."